I don’t like discomfort. None of us do, do we? I’ve recognized and written about my inclination to stop something before I actually have to. This is as true of pigeon pose in yoga as it is of a writing a difficult paragraph. I think it has something to do with fear that pain is coming next, and the preemptive conclusion that I cannot do it. My strong instinct – and, I’d aver, a pretty universal one – is to stop doing whatever it is that’s causing the discomfort. In fact, in some ways, I think actual pain is preferable to discomfort. Don’t you?
Leo of Zen Habits wrote last month that if you can “master discomfort, you can master the universe.” He’s not kidding. His practical discussion of how to learn to live with discomfort is as compelling and his enumeration of the enormous benefits of this is convincing. I agree with him.
Is there any difference between living with discomfort and having discipline? Aren’t these two ways of saying the same thing? I suspect they might be. As Leo says, it’s discomfort that keeps us from eating healthily, exercising regularly, and people who do these things are often said to have discipline.
I am often told I am disciplined. It’s true I get up in the pitch dark and run outside early in the morning, and I go to bed at 10pm almost every night and I hardly drink wine anymore because it interferes with my sleep. I know, I know: try to contain your awe at my thrilling life. But it’s funny, I don’t think of myself as disciplined. The truth is that none of these things are uncomfortable for me. Well, maybe that’s not strictly true: I can’t remember a single time that I’ve heard the alarm at 5:30 and leapt out of bed gleefully. But I also can’t remember a single time I haven’t been glad I went.
Discomfort, and the correlated discipline to live with it, must, like the rest of human existence, be absolutely individual. So, while others lack the discipline to fit exercise into their day, I lack the discipline to truly commit when things get hard. Next time I am in pigeon, and my hip is aching, and I feel a surge of boredom and desire to leave, I will try to remember: be here now. The discomfort won’t kill me. I will remember Leo’s assertion that living with discomfort is the road to living a fuller, richer life. I believe that is true. But, like all things, translating it from my brain to my body and heart is no simple thing.
What do you think about discomfort? And are you a disciplined person? In what ways?